Q&A: Slyphe

Slyphe, the Maelstrom, is one of Aetolia’s numerous and varied crop of volunteer developers and administrators, and is the controlling mastermind behind the focus system and Shaman class, as well as a major contributor to the upcoming revamps for the Teradrim, Ascendril and Sciomancers. He graciously took time off from straining for baleen and bellowing haunting whalesong to field some pressing questions regarding the Aetolian class design process.

Q: How do you decide where to start with a class redesign?
A: Well, when it comes to deciding WHICH classes to revamp, it’s a combination of both what legacy skills remain, and what ideas are currently on the table for new conceived mechanics. We still have several classes possessing mercantile skills as their tertiary, and we’ve been making an effort to target these classes primarily while still fixing ones that badly need the attention (such as Teradrim).

The biggest factor in beginning with a class revamp is being able to merge new depth and lore with interesting mechanics, so that players get to experience both immersion from their newfound powers as well as methods to actually win in combat. One without the other leaves the experience rather boring, so our biggest concern is making sure the skills fit together into a cohesive set and that we leave room for players to expand upon the lore beyond pointing out the exact effects of the abilities.

It’s additionally important to consider the niche of the class, and the approach taken for appealing to that niche and keeping the class’s place within groups and the overall scheme of the game in consideration. For example, the mage class is known for its passive hinder and control, offense-charged active combat and ‘glass cannon’ archetype when it comes to being locked down. In our future revamps, we’re intending to keep that niche intact while expanding upon each individual guild’s skillset such that legacy mechanics are updated to keep pace with the current metagame. For most classes, that means building around a momentum mechanic that doesn’t rely on a target’s system simply being outdated - if it’s a trick to land and similarly avoid, it won’t last long in modern combat.

Q: Are there any facets of combat in Aetolia that you try to avoid?
A: ‘One side has it so the other needs it too.’ While balancing is a fundamental aspect of class design, and we try to keep the sides relatively even in their ability to provoke and defend in conflict scenarios, straight copying of mechanics and defenses is something we really dislike doing. Novel approaches to replicate the effects are probably the closest we’ll get, and even then it’s important to consider what makes each class unique and appealing, so that we don’t diminish one guild by bolstering another. For example, being able to phase is part of what makes a syssin fascinating to play. Replicating that function fully in another guild would likely take some of that fun away, so players should not expect to see a phase clone regardless of the class’s availability to either side.

Q: How about encourage?
A: We love interesting, novel, new abilities whose function doesn’t yet exist within the game. Although there are limited considerations when it comes to combat (afflictions, healing, actives vs passives, movement skills, etc.) and limited parameters to adjust, generally each new class receives several mechanics that don’t exist elsewhere. We readily invite those sort of ideas since we feel they can help define a class to a player on more than a role level - mechanics such as Omen or Songlines for the Shaman fall under this category, since the delayed stun based on maladies (for Omen, combat purposes) or the ability to portal a target to a chosen location (Songlines/Journey) are fairly novel within the game’s scheme.

Q: Can you give us a summary of your approach to a budding new class design/redesign?

  • Identify the core problems - what renders the class unplayable? Is it outdated? Poor design? Legacy?
  • Conceive a way to evolve the class or guild towards their new role and build around it.
  • Identify core mechanics, such as energy or momentum systems, and kill conditions - with new afflictions or conditions built around it.
  • Conceptualize the individual 3 skills and how they will interplay, keeping in mind that skills should be relatively standalone both conceptually and in function
  • Identify weak points in mechanics and implementation, such as utility and flavor abilities.
  • Comb for new ideas and find ways to add novel functions to abilities
  • Flesh out the lore while filling the skills
  • Test, test, test. Mechanics are more important than numbers, since the latter is easy to tweak
  • Considerations for PvP role, both 1v1 and group, fortified vs. skirmish, and PvE role.
  • Infuse lore at any point it is acceptable and fitting

Q: What makes for valuable player or liaison input regarding a class redesign?
A: Being able to back up your opinions/findings with data is the most important attribute to a liaison or player wishing to do balancing work. Finding metrics to compare classes across is very difficult, but good liaisons find ways to draw balanced comparisons and identify strong and weak points by using these scales. It’s very much an interpretive process, but the more minds working in collusion on the matter, the more good data that comes out of it and the more refined the classes become. Also, I sound like a broken record at this point, but novel ideas are always a key point when it comes to implementation.

Q: Are there any hints you can give regarding the Teradrim and Ascendril revamps?
A: Teradrim will master the Earth, Ascendril will master the Elements, Sciomancers will master Shadow.

Q: Where did you hide the bodies?
A: Leverage is key, and here, there is none.